The human capacity to live with the apocalypse is unrivaled. On the first night after the meeting, I had horrific nightmares of plague, of Betty dead, of Randall and my new friends torn limb from limb, of the world falling apart around me. It was excruciating, knowing that there was nothing I could do besides what I was already doing, taking care of Betty. But I got used to it surprisingly quickly. By Wednesday morning, the dream had faded entirely. I asked Betty about that.
I sat down heavily on the subway, my head spinning from the encounter. My hand still ached faintly. I’d performed actual magic, three times. There was a small thrill in that, and a lot of disappointment.
It was Sunday afternoon. There was only one place my uncle would be. I sat in the subway, feeling the rage burning in the pit of my stomach. It was almost deserted, except for a pair of men in rat-faced masks holding a conversation, and watching me from one of the far corners. I tightened my hand around the pendant Betty had given me, and thought of the words to the ritual that Phoebe had told me. It suited me, I supposed, a magic to let me run away. It wasn’t as though I was going to be any good at fighting if things became violent, no matter how angry I was. But eventually, the two men got off the train, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
My eyes opened sharply, heart pounding as I woke out of the nightmare. It had featured rats heavily. It was another early Friday morning, the sky not even gray outside yet. Betty was lying next to me, in her cat form. I had soothed her with praise and apologies for half an hour the night before, with limited success. I shifted as carefully as I could, and miraculously, did not wake her. I tiptoed through the bedroom, into the living room. I had two and a half hours before I would have to shower and prepare for work , and I intended to make good use of that time.
I woke up, and Queen Betty wasn’t beside me. This wasn’t entirely unusual, as she was probably enjoying hunting rats at the moment. I yawned softly, and stretched out on the bed. I opened my eyes, and nearly screamed. Betty was crouched over me, in such a way that she wasn’t quite touching. Her green eyes were bright and shining, and way too close. She was breathing so softly that I hadn’t even felt it against my skin. “Oh, good! You’re awake, Horace!” She smiled sweetly. “Breakfast time!” I peered sideways. The clock read 5:30 AM. I considered protesting, and thought better of it.
I stood in the entrance to the police station, holding the tape in my hand, and feeling slightly foolish. When I had seen the video of the dark creatures splattering on the ground, I had been certain that it was important. But I was slowly realizing, I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t have any contacts in the media, and the idea of going up to the local TV news station and presenting it as some kind of evidence struck me as a wonderful idea for a prank, but a very bad way to try to get information into the hands of the people who needed it. I had no credibility, and no one to show the information to. So, after a week, I had decided to settle for vindication. But standing here in the busy lobby, I wasn’t sure how to find who I was looking for. I settled for standing with a lost and confused look on my face. That’s when she approached me, and in a tone with absolutely no good humor in it at all, said “Hello, sweet-cheeks.”
I packed up my work at the office. Another long, dull day of copying, calling, and filling out forms. I had spent the day thinking about Queen Betty, and her odd warnings. She’d disappeared without a trace that morning, and I’d been worried and distracted at work, drawing my uncle’s ire. Even seeing her at lunch hadn’t helped. She was up to something dangerous, I knew, and though I’d only been taking care of her for a few days, she was still special to me. Maybe I was just afraid that she would disappear, like so many other things I’d cared about through the years.
The door shattered, and a nightmare stood in the frame. I was in the copy room, working late into the night to print, collate, organize, and file all of the countless pieces of evidence the senior partner said absolutely had to be ready by tomorrow morning. I had been staring down at my phone while the ancient printer whirred and chugged in a losing battle against mechanical failure. There had been a soft, wet squelching noise, and a smell like motor oil. I’d dismissed it as either a sign the copier machine was in even worse shape than it looked, or I was about to have a stroke. I didn’t care either way. That’s when the wooden door separating me from the rest of the deserted office ripped messily in half. A large chunk of wood struck me in the head, knocking me to the ground.